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The Weight of a Human Heart: Stories

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Overview

 "If someone asked me to name my ideal collection of contemporary short fiction, I’d point to The Weight of a Human Heart and say, ‘This is it.’” Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind than Home

Ranging from Australia and Africa to Europe and Asia and back again, The Weight of a Human Heart heralds a fresh and important new voice in fiction. Ryan O'Neill takes us on a journey that ...

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The Weight of a Human Heart: Stories

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Overview

 "If someone asked me to name my ideal collection of contemporary short fiction, I’d point to The Weight of a Human Heart and say, ‘This is it.’” Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind than Home

Ranging from Australia and Africa to Europe and Asia and back again, The Weight of a Human Heart heralds a fresh and important new voice in fiction. Ryan O'Neill takes us on a journey that is sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, and wholly original.

A young Tutsi girl flees her village on the brink of the Rwandan genocide. A literary duel—and an affair—play out in the book review section of a national newspaper. A young girl learns her mother’s disturbing secrets through the broken key on a typewriter. 

With imagination, wit, and a keen eye, Ryan O'Neill draws the essence of the human experience with a cast of characters who stick with you long after you turn the last page of this brilliant short story collection.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vital storytelling and literary flourishes distinguish Scottish author O’Neill’s creative story collection. Throughout, the author employs original devices, from the elucidating subscript notations of “The Footnote,” to the doodles and flowcharts tracking a relationship’s disintegration in “Figures in a Marriage,” to the fonts and broken typewriter keys of “Typography,” a powerful story that evokes the crushing effects of loss on youth. “The Cockroach,” one of the best, appears early and eschews bells and whistles as it follows a girl in Rwanda. That country is the setting for other stories as well, including “The Genocide,” in which injustice competes with beauty. But lightness and satire saturate the brilliant “A Short Story”; and amidst stories supported by Venn diagrams, exam questions, distinguished author quotations (“Seventeen Rules for Writing a Short Story”), and a tale told through book reviews (“The Eunuch in the Harem”), there’s also sex, clever narration, and illustrative graphics that add wit and whimsy. What brings all of the tonal diversity together is Neill’s obvious understanding of the cohesiveness of language, its power to transcend and overcome, and the way an economy of precious words in a short story can achieve a novel’s worth of emotion. (July)
From the Publisher
“Vital storytelling and literary flourishes distinguish Scottish author O’Neill’s creative story collection . . . there’s also sex, clever narration, and illustrative graphics that add wit and whimsy. What brings all of the tonal diversity together is O’Neill’s obvious understanding of the cohesiveness of language, its power to transcend and overcome, and the way an economy of precious words in a short story can achieve a novel’s worth of emotion.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

"O’Neill shows large-heartedness and a remarkable depth of experience in stories whose settings range from Australia to Rwanda to war-torn Eastern Europe . . . the singular mix of humor, intelligence, and global awareness sets this impressive collection apart from the crowd.” –Library Journal, starred review

“A story collection brimming with imagination” —Kirkus

“With the international scope of Nam Le’s The Boat, the rooted sense of place in Anthony Doerr’s The Shell Collector, and the playful wit of Jeanette Winterson’s The World and Other Places, Ryan O’Neill may have written the best first collection of stories you’re likely to read. If someone asked me to name my ideal collection of contemporary short fiction, I’d point to The Weight of a Human Heart and say, ‘This is it.’” –Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home

"Open this collection of stories and you will be astounded by the hugeness of the writer's heart, and by the breadth and depth of his vision. Ryan O'Neill is a writer of limitless imagination, unafraid to travel to the many dangerous and wonderful places that imagination takes him." —Hector Tobar, bestselling author of The Barbarian Nurseries

“Inventive, witty, and profoundly human, Ryan O'Neill is one of Australia's best short story writers." 

Simon Van Booy, author of Everything Beautiful Began After and winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award

The Weight of a Human Heart is refreshing, funny, devastating. Ryan O’Neill’s stories break rules to great effect; they're adventurous, textured, full of heart.  His prose is active and vivid; his characters are imperfectly real, out in the world, and under pressure. O’Neill is a smart and daring writer; he challenges the conventions of short fiction, but his stories are still deeply satisfying and offer glimpses into worlds readers need to see, worlds that are vile, beautiful, and utterly human.”  –Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise

"With hints of both O. Henry and Rick Moody, Ryan O'Neill has written a memorable collection of stories that's as stylistically inventive as it is emotionally engaging." —Alethea Black, author of I Knew You’d Be Lovely

“By turns acerbic, playful and serious, O'Neill is equally at home with satire and pathos” —Cate Kennedy, author of Dark Roots

“Playful with content, O’Neill is also joyfully original with format . . . [in] this brilliant collection.” The Independent, UK

“Daring, intelligent, witty, full of new discoveries and exhilarations.” –The Guardian, UK

"Both inventive and moving . . . Solving the riddles of his prose becomes addictive." —The Times Literary Supplement, UK

“Uproarious, dazzling collection” —The Monthly, Australia

Kirkus Reviews
From Australian author O'Neill, a story collection brimming with imagination. The best of the stories are straightforward, such as "The Cockroach," which takes place in a Rwandan village and tugs at the heart. The ruling Hutus have condemned the Tutsis as cockroaches to be destroyed. In "Collected Stories," the narrator's mother is a racist short story writer appropriately named Hately. The prose in the better stories engenders sympathy or antipathy for the characters. But many of the other stories look like experiments, research into the limits of reader tolerance. Do you really want to read "Figures in a Marriage," consisting solely of flow charts, pie charts, graphs, doodles, a time line and a mind map? Do you really want to know the length in centimeters of man's and wife's tongues and genitalia? "The Footnote," not surprisingly, has plenty of footnotes. "The Examination" is more interesting than the question-and-answer format suggests, since the test-taker is a Tutsi who writes a heart-rending composition. In "Tyypographyy," a typewriter always types "y" twice, and an instructor speaks only in numbers: "Beckyy put her hand up. ‘946563291?' ‘3975316!' he said." Yet a few of the experiments are mildly amusing, such as "A Story in Writing," wherein O'Neill uses one literary device after another--setting, free verse, Homeric simile and many others. The prose--when the author bothers to simply write prose--is very good. But too much of the book looks like a Ph.D. thesis in creative writing, where extra credit goes to the candidate who tries techniques others know better than to try.
Library Journal
In this debut collection, O'Neill shows large-heartedness and a remarkable depth of experience in stories whose settings range from Australia to Rwanda to war-torn Eastern Europe, often seen through the eyes of writers, teachers, and participant observers. The tour de force "English as a Foreign Language," set in Rwanda in the midst of genocide, is surprisingly reminiscent of Leo Rosten's Hyman Kaplan stories in its humorous examples of fractured idioms but with much more at stake. The pedagogical framework here and elsewhere allows O'Neill to make clever use of learning tools and typography, including phonetic spelling and sample answers to an ESL exam. Stories set outside the classroom likewise incorporate academic conventions. "The Footnote," about a writer named Thomas Hardie, is filled with actual footnotes, and "Figures in a Marriage" features a time line, a graph, and a flow chart. Other stories poke fun at lit-biz gamesmanship, in one instance played out through a series of book reviews with a subtext of marital infidelity. VERDICT The variety of narrative modes here never feels like experimentation for its own sake, and the singular mix of humor, intelligence, and global awareness sets this impressive collection apart from the crowd. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/12.]—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250024992
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/16/2013
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

RYAN O'NEILL was born in Glasgow in 1975. He lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Newcastle, Australia, with his wife and two daughters. His fiction has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards. The Weight of a Human Heart has been shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Prize - Steele Rudd Award. He teaches at the University of Newcastle.

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